The World Series is now underway and the exciting 2017 season is wrapping up. While pitchers and catchers reporting to camp in 2018 seems far away, it’s not too early to begin thinking about how the Phillies could be more competitive next season.
One move that makes sense is to send Vince Velasquez to the bullpen. I know, I know, how can the Phillies send a guy who struck out 16 Padres in a game last season to the ‘pen? And wouldn’t that move hurt an already thin starting rotation?
Short answer is yes, it may hurt the rotation. After Aaron Nola, the starting rotation has several question marks. Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff, Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Mark Leiter Jr., and Jake Thompson are all possibilities, but they each have major inconsistencies, and Thompson is the only one of that group who finished the 2017 season with a sub 4.00 ERA. Someone like Velasquez, a hard throwing righty with 9.67 K/9 in his career, could be a big boost to the rotation.
But even so, there are a couple of reasons why moving him to the bullpen makes sense.
First, Velasquez has trouble staying healthy. In 2016 he was only able to pitch 131 innings, missing time with a biceps strain before being shut down towards the end of the season. In 2017, Velasquez amassed 72 innings before being transferred to the 60-day D.L.
Before he found himself on the disabled list this season, Velasquez had appeared to take a step back in his development. He posted a 2-7 record with 5.13 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Worse than that, he allowed 15 home runs after giving up 21 in 2016. And because of that, Velasquez pitched into the sixth inning only six times in 15 starts, with seven innings pitched being the best mark. His pitch counts are always through the roof and he seems to struggle mightily with his second and third time through the respective batting orders.
At this point, it’s clear that he does not have the consistency needed to be a relied upon piece of the rotation. I’d rather give a rotation spot to someone who has something to prove. In my mind, all Velasquez has proven is that at some point in the season he’s going to get injured.
Moving him to the bullpen will help to preserve him. Instead of having to use that firepower for a whole game (or the five innings he’ll pitch as a starter), Velasquez can instead give it everything he has for an inning or two, which would hopefully lessen his risk of overuse and injury.
Finally, imagine having a player of Velasquez’s caliber coming out of the bullpen. The game is evolving to a point where teams that are going to contend consistently have stellar bullpens and can bring in guys who do two things; throw heat and strike guys out. Don’t believe me? Look at what happened last postseason and carried into this postseason. Teams like the Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers had guys in the ‘pen who do just that, and rode them into deep postseason runs and a World Series victory in the case of the Cubs last year.
The Phillies’ bullpen was good at the end of this season, but it doesn’t strike fear into opponents. Having Velasquez in there will do just that.
Now, this probably won’t happen right away in 2018. The aforementioned starting rotation questions will see to that. But if the Phillies want to keep one of their best arms healthy while making the bullpen more formidable, they will give this move serious consideration. And who knows, maybe Velasquez will wind up being the closer of the future.
Photo: Elaine Zeno (via Flickr)